Youth with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder are 19 times more likely to get into trouble with the law than other people, a district health board says.

And among those in foster care, the prevalence of the disorder, caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy, is 10 times the rate in the general population, the Northland DHB says, following a forum on the links between the disorder and the justice system.

Judge Catherine Crawford, of West Australia, told the forum, "Children adversely affected by neuro-disability, resulting from alcohol exposure during pregnancy, are at an increased risk of committing crime or being a victim of crime. Such outcomes are doomed to be repeated when there is systematic failure to identify and appropriately accommodate their disability into adulthood."

She said that when she spent a day in the Whangarei Youth Court, six of the 19 young people before the court had been diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

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The health board said it was estimated that of the nearly 60,000 live births a year in New Zealand, 600 to 3000 are children with FSAD.

"According to Ministry of Health figures, one in four mothers continue to drink alcohol during pregnancy."

A DHB health promotion adviser, Dave Hookway, said, "It is important for women to understand that there is no safe amount, nor time to drink alcohol during pregnancy. Women who do drink while pregnant put their unborn child at risk of physical, mental, behavioural and learning disabilities with life-long effects."

"Northland has been developing its diagnostic and assessment capability".

FSAD played a key role in the Teina Pora appeal.

Medical opinions that Mr Pora has FASD and that this could explain what are now believed to be his false confessions in the Susan Burdett case were important factors in appeal judges quashing his convictions for her rape and murder.